Food SovereigntyAt the World Food Summit in 1996, La Via Campesina changed the face of agriculture forever by creating and advocating for the idea of food sovereignty. La Via Campesina, which translates to “The Peasants’ Way,” is an international, grassroots social movement — arguably the biggest one around the world. It works to educate and empower small-scale farmers, fisherfolk, land workers, rural women and indigenous people everywhere so that they can reclaim their power in the global food system.

The Origins of La Via Campesina

In Belgium in 1993, farmers – both men and women – from four different continents came together to found La Via Campesina. During this period of globalization, small farmers needed to unite to protect their voices. An estimated 200 million people are now part of this movement.

The International Peasant’s Movement

La Via Campesina, also known as the International Peasant’s Movement, has three main goals:

  1. Defending food sovereignty and agrarian reform

  2. Promoting agroecology and defending local seeds

  3. Promoting peasant rights and defending against the criminalization of peasants

Defending Food Sovereignty

When people speak about global food equity, they often refer to food security. Food sovereignty takes this concept of equal distribution of food one step further, and advocates for control of the food system by those who actually produce, distribute and consume.

According to the Declaration of Nyéléni at the first global forum on food sovereignty in 2007, “Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally-appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations.”

World agricultural systems are the most productive they’ve ever been. The issue today isn’t a lack of food, but rather power imbalances in the control of the food, preventing those who need nourishment most from getting it. Food sovereignty supports that everyone – producers, harvesters, consumers – has the right to take back power from the markets and corporations.

Another factor is the struggle for land and agrarian reform. The organization seeks to ensure that those who produce have the rights to use and manage lands, water, livestock, etc., rather than the corporate sector.

Promoting Agroecology

This movement is deeply connected to sustainability and believes that agroecology is a way to combat the economic system that places more importance on profit than people around the world. Small farmers comprise almost half of the world’s population and have shown already that they can produce food in an eco-friendly, sustainable way.

Agroecology is a comprehensive view of farming which states that processes and practices should be adapted to fit local conditions. By creating agricultural systems based on the independence of peasants, without the use of oil or other fossil fuels, agrochemicals, or genetic modification, both the environment and global food systems will make strides towards a safer future. It relies on the decentralization of agricultural power. While this may sound counterintuitive in an increasingly globalized world, decentralization gives power back to the people who need it most.

An integral part of agroecology is the recognition of the importance of traditional knowledge. Passed on from generation to generation and deeply embedded in the culture of a community, traditional knowledge provides useful information about the local landscape and agricultural needs. La Via Campesina fosters farmer-to-farmer transmission of information and innovation through observation.

Promoting Peasant Rights

Peasants are increasingly being displaced and discriminated against in every part of the world. Corporations continue to violate their basic rights while peasants struggle to protect them, sometimes dying in the process. In 2017, 207 men and women were killed for defending their land, forests and water; a quarter of them were Indigenous.

It must also be noted that the term “peasant” does not carry negative connotations; as defined by La Via Campesina, “A peasant is a man or woman of the land, who has a direct and special relationship with the land and nature through the production of food and/or other agricultural products.” Many think peasant is a pejorative word, indicative of a low status. In a modern context, there is no association between the word “peasant” and “low class.”

La Via Campesina promotes a Universal Declaration on the rights of peasants and other rural workers. This Universal Declaration includes the right to an adequate standard of living, seeds, land, information, justice and gender equality.

The Accomplishments

La Via Campesina has made substantial, lasting accomplishments. Multiple countries have made food sovereignty a part of their national policies and constitutions. After heavy lobbying, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants was adopted in 2018.

Djigal, a small-scale fish producer from Senegal, shares her thoughts on the matter. “…A movement like this allows us to globalize the struggle…For a long time, peasants didn’t know what was at stake in these negotiations. But through this movement, we’ve become more educated. Now we can speak for ourselves.”

The impacts of this movement cannot be overstated. It is a daunting task to shift the balance of power of the global food system towards small-scale farmers, indigenous people and rural women. Advocates of industrial capitalism believed peasants would disappear, but here they are, fighting around the world for their rights.

– Fiona Price
Photo: Flickr

Elderly Poverty in Taiwan
In recent decades, Taiwan has made rapid improvements in the quality of life of its people, resulting in less than 1% of the population being poor or low income. Although these facts are definitely something to celebrate, Taiwan’s demographic has changed drastically during this time. People are living longer and having fewer children, causing the rate of aging in Taiwan to accelerate. In fact, Taiwan’s accelerated rate of aging is so high that it more than doubles that of European countries and the United States.

The World Health Organization (WHO) classifies an “aging society” as when 7% of the population is 65 and older. Taiwan became an aging society in 1993 and estimates have determined that it will become a “super-aged society” by 2025 as about 20% of the population could be over the age of 65.

As the size of the ever-growing elderly population expands, their quality of life dissipates. Many rural counties in Taiwan have a dependency rate (the number of people 65 and older to every 100 people of traditional working ages) in excess of 10%. These rural townships lack even more services and resources, having limited access to essentials like medical and transportation services— and most notably, caregivers who leave and move to metro areas for jobs and education. This leaves the island with a dilemma on how to promote systematic endeavors— both in policies and research, as well as encouraging more involvement in non-government organizations to help with this aging issue. Here are five positive changes regarding elderly poverty in Taiwan.

5 Positive Changes Regarding Elderly Poverty in Taiwan

  1. Providing Proper Healthcare Coverage: In 2013, Taiwan introduced the National Health Insurance Program (NHI), a single-payer compulsory social insurance plan that covers annual health examinations for seniors 65 and older. NHI grants go to those aged 70 years or older with medium to low income, and grants that may include fiscal constraints from local authorities can go to citizens aged 65 to 69.
  2. Ensuring Economic Stability: A National Pension that launched in 2005 serves Taiwanese citizens who do not receive coverage from public funds. They have assured a living allowance based on their family’s financial circumstances. This secures regular, lifelong pension benefits for an elderly population living on a lower income. If there are seniors who are not receiving shelter or resettlement services from institutions, family caregivers may receive a monthly special care allowance as an additional aid. The Pilot Program, an option for senior citizens to convert their houses and land into monthly payments, is another coverage plan also taking effect and creating a positive change in regard to elderly poverty in Taiwan.
  3. Building a Long-term Care Plan: The SFAA (Social and Family Affairs Administration) implemented an initiative to improve Taiwan’s long-term home and community-based services. Beneficial services like daily routine assistance and mental and physical healthcare for the disabled are improving the quality of life of Taiwanese seniors. The SFAA has also enacted an assistive device acquisition to support in-home mobility and improvement of residential accessibility, respite care to support family caregivers, transportation to those who require long-term care, as well as providing daily healthy meals to economically disadvantaged or disabled seniors.
  4. Establishing Access to Social Welfare Programs: New developments like tour buses are providing care services spanning from inner cities to the more rural areas of the island. The SFAA developed this to encourage seniors to step outside and interact with the community. Through this service, they can learn more about social welfare benefits like health counseling, senior care, leisure and entertainment. The SFAA has also funded Senior Citizen Schools where seniors can join courses that enhance their quality of life after retirement. Seniors also have the asset of participating in the Double Ninth Festival which insights ideas of healthy-aging by staying active and involved in competitions and other activities.
  5. Addressing the Rising Alzheimers and Dementia Crisis: A dramatic rise in patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia has ignited involvement in government and non-government organizations (NGOs). Amongst these organizations making a difference in elderly poverty in Taiwan is the School of Wisdom, based in Taipei. This program enables Alzheimer’s and dementia patients to keep physically and mentally stimulated and live a fuller, happier life. Programs such as these provide helpline services, care and nursing facilities, education websites and support gatherings for the patients and their caregivers.

Adapting to a New Demographic

As Taiwan’s economic prosperity continues to evolve at a continuing rate, it is important to pay attention to those who may be falling behind. Taking affirmative action on positive changes to end elderly poverty in Taiwan is the greatest way for the Taiwanese to stay true to their rooted cultural values of respecting one’s elders and to ensure that citizens in need are experiencing an optimal quality of life.

– Alyssa McGrail
Photo: Flickr

recovery after the Beirut ExplosionOn Aug. 4, 2020, a warehouse fire at the Port of Beirut in Lebanon led to a large explosion. There was a significant amount of property damage and loss of life. The blast leveled the surrounding dockside area and sent shock waves throughout much of the city, causing widespread destruction. It was reported that at least 200 people were killed and over 5,000 were injured. In addition, 300,000 are estimated to be left homeless. This explosion is considered to be “unquestionably one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history, far bigger than any conventional weapon” according to the BBC. Thankfully, UNICEF stepped in to aid in recovery after the Beirut explosion with multiple programs directed at short-term and long-term benefits.

UNICEF Aids in Recovery After the Beirut Explosion

It is difficult to imagine the devastating impact that a disaster of this magnitude has on people. This is especially true for families and children living in the affected areas. In the days immediately following the explosion, UNICEF reported that 80,000 children had been displaced, at least 12 children’s hospitals and other family healthcare facilities were destroyed. Many schools reported varying levels of damages and numerous children were missing or separated from their families. Thankfully, UNICEF stepped in to help children and families struggling with the short- and long-term effects of this disaster. They instituted multiple programs providing both immediate relief and continuing assistance in rebuilding.

These are just some of the ways that UNICEF has helped Beirut recover after the explosion.

WASH Program

One of the first actions taken by UNICEF for recovery after the Beirut explosion was to restore water service to damaged homes and facilities. In the past, the organization has provided Lebanese families with clean and accessible water through the WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) program. After the explosion, this program was reoriented to focus on restoring and repairing water supplies in Beirut. Working with partner NGOs LebRelief and DPNA, UNICEF conducted house-to-house surveys and technical assessments of the damage and required assistance. In buildings such as schools and hospitals that sustained heavy damage, UNICEF and DPNA installed 1,000-liter water tanks. They repaired damaged or leaking pipes quickly so that these facilities could continue serving the community. Many of these installations and repairs are also being performed by Lebanese youth through a UNICEF program. It trains them on how to re-establish water connections for future career skills. Additionally, UNICEF and LebRelief restored water service to homes with vulnerable families affected by the explosion. They operated quickly to have water connections reestablished within days.

Hygiene and Baby Care Kits

Another important aspect of UNICEF’s response program in Beirut was to provide hygiene and baby care kits to vulnerable families, such as those with young children and damaged water service. These kits provide necessary supplies for dental, feminine and personal hygiene. There are also separate baby care kits containing creams, basic clothing and diapers. They are intended to support a family of five for up to one month and are delivered door-to-door as well as at temporary distribution centers. Through partnerships with various local organizations such as Medair, the Lebanese Red Cross, Concern Worldwide and Solidarités International, UNICEF was able to gather 10,000 kits and rapidly distribute over 5,000 of them by early September.

Safe Parks

The Beirut explosion caused long-lasting damage that necessitates assistance even after the initial need for emergency response has ended. This is especially true for many children, who must now deal with the trauma and destruction of the explosion on top of the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Schools are closed and many homes are destroyed. As a part of recovery after the Beirut explosion, children need a place where they can be physically safe and find some form of normalcy and fun. UNICEF established safe parks in the heavily affected areas of Geitawi, Basta and Karatina. These parks provide children with psychosocial support and basic education in a safe space. The parks allow them time to play and develop since schools in Beirut are closed indefinitely. Children struggling with the trauma after the explosion can benefit from the stability and support provided by these safe parks. They can play games, do simple lessons and learn about coronavirus safety. This is a valuable escape for children struggling emotionally or physically with the disaster’s aftermath.

Emergency Cash Grant for Recovery After the Beirut Explosion

Even over a month after the initial incident, UNICEF is still providing assistance to families living with the impact of the Beirut explosion. They launched an Emergency Cash Grant program on September 15 to provide financial support to vulnerable and struggling families. The grant is available to households in the most affected areas with children, people with disabilities, people over 70 or a female head of the household. Through this program, up to three vulnerable household members will receive a one-time cash grant of 840,000 Lebanese pounds. The money provided by UNICEF will allow families struggling with the effects of the explosion on top of the ongoing pandemic and economic crisis to support themselves and recover from the damage caused by this disaster. Applications for this grant are available online and at various in-person registration sites. UNICEF is raising awareness for the program through community outreach in affected areas.

The explosion in Beirut was a terrible tragedy that left many families struggling to get back on their feet. UNICEF’s numerous assistance programs are an invaluable aid to this city’s recovery efforts.

Allie Beutel
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in PeruPeru is currently the country with the world’s highest per-population confirmed COVID-19 mortality rate, and native communities are amongst the hardest hit by the pandemic. Peru is home to one of Latin America’s largest Indigenous populations, whose ancestors lived in the Andean country before the arrival of Spanish colonists. Peru has a population of 32 million people, with 33% of Peruvians identify as Indigenous. Most Indigenous communities are located in remote regions with extremely limited access to doctors and healthcare services.

In Peru, the number of COVID-19 cases among Indigenous people has exceeded 21,000. Across many measures, Indigenous Peruvians are disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Conventional medical services are rare and often ill-equipped. The national census reported that only about one-third of communities have access to clinics. Furthermore, over 90% of medical services that exist in the region lack any medical workers and the majority also do not have electricity and running water. The disparities in medical attention are a catalyst for the extraordinarily high positive rate in the Amazon region, which has reached 15.75%.

Decades of under-investment in public healthcare, combined with the skepticism of modern medicine, mean many are not receiving standard treatments like oxygen therapy to treat severe virus cases. Traditional medicine has become the first line of defense against the pandemic in these communities and has compelled many Indigenous groups to utilize ancestral remedies to fight COVID-19 in Peru.

Traditional Medicine to Fight COVID-19 in Peru

Throughout history, traditional medicine has been a source of medical treatment for a plethora of diseases. In Peru, local people rely primarily on traditional medicine, while Western medicine is ancillary. Consequently, inclusive mobilization of traditional medicine resources is important for more effective control of COVID-19. Western medicine is generally fixated on an individual patient’s illness, while Indigenous healers have a more holistic approach to medicine that focuses on the individual’s personal relationships and the natural world.

Traditional medicine offers a key opportunity to fight against COVID-19 in Peru’s rural communities. The contribution of traditional medicine and healers in the management of COVID-19 in Peru has the scope to enhance health initiatives and medical care services. Local plants, such as buddleja globosa, or locally known as “matico,” are being used by the Shipibo people, who are one of the largest ethnic groups in Peru’s Amazon region, to treat symptoms of COVID-19. This plant is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties. A combination of Indigenous medicine and Western medications, such as paracetamol, are acting as substitutes for typical treatments for the virus as Indigenous communities fight to lessen the burden of the pandemic with limited resources.

Providing Solutions

Several organizations are working to combat COVID-19 in Peru. WiRED International has joined forces with Project Amazonas (PA) to train community health workers and create a sustainable health database for the region. Based on World Health Organization standards, they implemented a comprehensive program in Iquitos. The curriculum consists of a myriad of training modules to better equip community health workers to fight and contain infectious diseases. PA and WiRED also collaborated to create an online patient-record database that can be accessed without the internet. The information collected can then be uploaded to the national health database to bring the needs of the Indigenous communities to the government’s and health leader’s attention.

Sinergias, a Colombian nonprofit organization, created an intercultural, multi-pronged approach to fight COVID-19 in the Amazon. The organization is collaborating with local communities and governments to create and implement health guidelines for rural areas that fuse traditional and Western medicine approaches. Additionally, Sinergias has joined the effort to create an Amazonian Health Observatory. This observatory provides reliable information about COVID-19 and has the potential to expand to monitor and document the region’s overall health.

Strengthening local health systems and improving Indigenous populations’ access to resources is pertinent to easing the burden of the COVID-19 in Peru. Some populations are experiencing relief from COVID-19 symptoms with a combination of traditional and Western medicine. Combating COVID-19 in a medically plural society has its challenges, yet implementing effective solutions is possible with diligence and collaboration.

– Samantha Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Eradication in Angola
Angola has struggled to recover from decades of civil war and economic turmoil, with over 40% of the population, mostly in rural areas, living in extreme poverty. However, recent innovations in poverty eradication in Angola have begun to help the once virulent nation gain stability. New technologies and funding from private companies, financial institutions and organizations have allowed Angola to modernize and combat extreme poverty. Here are three innovations in poverty eradication in Angola.

Open Data Platforms

Open data platforms are a way to gather large amounts of data, statistics and information from diverse and large groups to analyze potential problem areas. Governments and large organizations use this analysis to tackle identifiable issues head-on. For example, an investment group may notice a glaring need for communications upgrades in rural areas, which leads to the creation of jobs and infrastructure.

Open data is a recent innovation in poverty eradication in Angola and examines anything from economic growth to healthcare strategy. Through the International Monetary Fund’s Enhanced General Data Dissemination System, Angola set up its own National Summary Data Page at opendataforafrica.org in 2018. The African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) offer the NSDP to Angola for free. Using key indicators through the NSDP, the IMF and other organizations utilize this information for transparency, economic investment opportunities and identifying necessary aid in Angola, which are ways the NSDP’s data collection can reduce poverty.

South Atlantic Cable System

Angola lacks a strong telecommunications network. Rural communities suffer the most due to decreased technological abilities in farming and irrigation and emergency medical services. But a revolutionary project may help. One of the most impressive innovations in poverty eradication in Angola is the South Atlantic Cable System. Developed by the telecommunications operator, Angola Cables, this submarine communications cable provides interconnectivity between Luanda, Angola and Angonap Fortaleza, Brazil. The SACS improves the telecommunications and information technology infrastructure in Angola while connecting fast communication services throughout Africa and South America.

Although Angola is still developing its ICT sector and job growth has remained stagnant, the SACS potential is exponential. Angola could use this project to establish the country as a leader in tech in sub-Saharan Africa. This would reduce Angola’s reliance on oil exports and drive IT education to encourage entrepreneurship and competition, leading to increased IT and communications jobs and eventual ICT expansion in rural Angola to reduce poverty and improve healthcare access.

Neighboring nations that lack IT infrastructure can reach out to Angola Cables and the Angolan government, launching international funds to Angola. The SACS also makes Angola a centralized location for data in the entire southern hemisphere. The premium digital connection is unrivaled, leading to even more considerable international interest in Angola as a tech hub.

Commercial Agriculture Development Project (PDAC)

Due to the Angolan Civil War, farming in Angola suffered from a lack of development and slow regrowth due to landmines. Agriculture also suffers due to persistent and unpredictable droughts in Angola. The Commercial Agriculture Development Project received funding from the World Bank in 2018 to improve the economic condition and technology in Angola’s rural areas, providing much-needed support to the most vulnerable people in Angola to improve domestic food security. Primarily directed at improving irrigation systems and infrastructure related to the electric grid, the PDAC receives funding through 2024 and supports developers’ creative solutions to these problems.

So far, the project has granted contracts and requests in 2020 for the following:

  • Creating innovative management systems for irrigated perimeters, which help water efficiency usage during periods of drought
  • Development of financial risk tools, like risk management software and microinsurance for at-risk communities to ensure oversight of food security
  • Geospatial electrification options to create renewable energy that people can use in rural areas
  • IT tools, such as tablets, drones and tech support for better agriculture analysis
  • Multiple feasibility studies

All of these contracts and requests have happened in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even with the pace slowing to handle the pandemic, the PDAC has led to several innovations in poverty eradication in Angola. Developers have maintained a healthy advancement rate since the beginning of the project, and they will continue through 2024.

Angola’s Future

With all the new technology and projects, Angola will continue to reduce extreme poverty for large portions of its population. As the nation continues to establish a commercial agriculture program and the telecommunications sector, there is a reduced reliance on oil exports. Angola can continue to diversify its economic strategy allocating its vast resources for a bright future and eliminate extreme poverty.

– Zachary Kunze
Photo: Pixnio

Social Skills to Young Girls
Asante Africa Foundation, which Erna Grasz co-founded in 2007, is a Foundation to alleviate poverty and encourage the development of youth through quality learning in the classroom, gender equity and work-life skills. Its motto is to “Educate and empower the next generation of change agents, whose dreams and actions transform the future for Africa and the world.” Here is some information about how Asante Africa Foundation is working to promote health knowledge and education for young girls.

About Asante Africa Foundation

The Foundation comprises a global team that connects youth from Kenya, Tanzania, California and Uganda through three effective interconnected programs that work to promote education through low-cost resources and train teachers how to educate youth. These programs, called Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program, Leadership and Entrepreneurship Incubator (LEI) Program and Wezesha Vijana Program, are active in East Africa in Narok, Kenya; Arusha, Tanzania; Livermore, California and Kassanda, Uganda.

The LEI Program, founded in 2010, is a three-year program that provides students with job readiness skills, entrepreneurship skills and personal development skills that will allow students to enter the job market and start their own businesses in the future. The Accelerated Learning in the Classroom Program is a program that works to provide intensive teacher training and utilization of technology in the classroom to better prepare students. In this way, both students and teachers gain the necessary skills to thrive and excel in modern academic fields.

The Wezesha Vijana Program, also known as the Girls’ Advancement Program, is a school-based program that works to provide a safe space for young girls to discuss their challenges and to create solutions to those problems. This program allows community support, parental engagement and peer mentoring. Young girls become armed with the knowledge and recognition of their rights and their collective power. The Foundation has changed over 600,000 youth lives by encouraging the development of cognitive skills, decision-making capacity and leadership qualities for the next generation.

Providing Education for Girls

In a virtual event that took place on October 17, 2020, called Creating Opportunity from Chaos, people received opportunities to create changes in their communities and voice their understanding of the struggles that young girls face. Participants had to describe what implementations they were making in the community to foster change and growth. The theme of the panel was to create solutions for the predicament of a young girl facing issues such as gender-based violence and limited educational and economic opportunities. Simon Kinyanjul, the representative from Asante Africa Foundation, answered that he was promoting change in the community through providing education for girls about their sexual rights, hygienic practices and financial/business knowledge.

Kinyabjul emphasized how the start of after-school clubs and activities play an important role in functioning as a safe place for girls to learn how to obtain skills such as financial education, skills training and community support. Some afterschool activities that Asante Africa Foundation has created involved building peer support networks through the administration of girl-led school clubs that educated girls in sexual maturation, reproductive health, financial knowledge, social skills and personal rights. These afterschool clubs allowed greater communication among the girls and also taught the boys to act as a support system and ally to the girls. The implementation of after-school activities and clubs has led to fewer early unintended pregnancies, reduced early marriages, increased school attendance/completion and increased financial earnings/savings for girls.

The Wezesha Vijana Program

Simon Kinyanjui took the time to explain the Wezesha Vijana Program, a program to give young girls knowledge about hygiene, finances and business, along with social skills to help them in their communities and their lives. The help gained from the local government, local chiefs and schools serve as important constituents that will aid as a support structure for young girls to pave their way into the world. This program has impacted over 125,000 youth lives and the number continues to grow. The average attendance rate in schools in Africa has increased by 7%, academic performance in schools has increased by 38% and pregnancy dropouts have decreased by 75% in 2019 alone.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, young girls and children do not have the opportunity to gather and learn these important lifelong skills. Therefore, Asante Africa Foundation has been reaching out to communities and distributing Youth Essential Kits which contain feminine hygiene products and learning products that allow these girls to become healthy women in their business and their lives.

The prolongation of the COVID-19 pandemic has denied youth the ability to attend sessions in the community that served as a place for the girls to meet regularly and discuss and share issues. It is also impeding the process that allowed girls to discuss their knowledge of financial stability, hygiene and personal health. However, through the creation and distribution of the hygiene kits, adolescent girls have the feminine hygiene products that will allow them to stay clean and that they may not have been able to afford. The pandemic has resulted in reduced earnings and increased unemployment in the African economy which, in turn, has increased poverty. As a result, these Youth Essential Kits are providing adolescent girls with the feminine products that they cannot afford due to the economic decline.

To help ease the trouble that the pandemic caused, Asante Africa Foundation has also been working with students and alumni to identify what is necessary within different communities. The effort of Asante Africa Foundation to provide a source of outreach and connection among the students through the pandemic has allowed students to remain active in their endeavors and have a positive outlook for their futures.

– Isha Bedi
Photo: Flickr

Venezuelan MigrantsThe poor living conditions that have escalated in Venezuela since 2013 have led to a surge of Venezuelan migration into neighboring Colombia. Because the COVID-19 pandemic is an especially dangerous and difficult time for these Venezuelan migrants and refugees, humanitarian organizations are working to support their needs.

The Current Situation for Venezuelan Migrants in Colombia

Since 2014, the number of Venezuelans pursuing refugee status increased by 8,000% due to the political and economic instability in Venezuela, coupled with a severe shortage of food and medical supplies. There are currently 1.8 million refugees and migrants in Colombia.

Colombia has put containment rules in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, which have limited opportunities for Venezuelan migrants to find employment and access food. Because the majority of Venezuelan migrants do not have stable employment contracts, their reliance on daily jobs, which are now more difficult to find, has left many families without the proper income to afford basic necessities. Prior to the spread of COVID-19, Bucaramanga, a city in north-central Colombia, already had malnutrition rates of 20% in children and 5% in adults. The following humanitarian organizations have helped provide for the unmet needs of this population.

The Start Fund

In April 2020, the Start Network, a nonprofit committed to localizing funding and innovation for humanitarian action, developed the Start Fund COVID-19. The initiative has been able to tackle challenges from the pandemic that is “neglected or underfunded.” It is with the Start Fund COVID-19’s financial support that prominent humanitarian organizations are currently able to provide relief for Venezuelan migrants.

Fundación entre Dos Tierras

Fundación Entre Dos Tierras is a Colombian humanitarian organization that emerged to support especially vulnerable Venezuelan migrants in Bucaramanga. Before the pandemic worsened conditions for this community, volunteers already hosted the Programa Tapara, which provided food, clothing and medicine, along with three other programs. Fundación Entre Dos Tierras has become a local partner to two international humanitarian organizations to combat food insecurity for Venezuelan migrants attempting to return to the Venezuelan border.

Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International

As a result of the current health crisis, many Venezuelans have had to live in hotels or congregate in parks. Venezuelans in Colombia who are homeless or have experienced eviction are the target population of Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International’s work. Each day in Bucaramanga, 750 people receive two meals and 800 people obtain hygiene kits.

Because of the complications for employment that Colombia’s containment rules have caused, some Venezuelans are attempting to return to Venezuela. Of these returnees, 1,600 migrants are to receive hygiene products and enough food to last 48 hours.

Solidarités International

Solidarités International has also constructed rehabilitation programs for Venezuelans along their migration journeys. There are four shelters present on one of the main routes that go through Bucaramanga to Medellín and Bogotá. The humanitarian organization, in partnership with Première Urgence Internationale, has increased the availability of water, sanitation and hygiene and WASH services. As a vulnerable community during COVID-19, sheltering in these spaces creates a safer refuge along their journeys.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only aggravated food and housing insecurity for Venezuelan migrants and refugees residing in Colombia. The collaboration between Fundación Entre Dos Tierras, Première Urgence Internationale and Solidarités International has created temporary aid for thousands of Venezuelans. It is imperative that this vulnerable population continues to receive support throughout the pandemic.

– Ilana Issula
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

India’s ban on dangerous pesticidesThe Indian Ministry of Agriculture has banned 27 pesticides that are known to be dangerous. A number of studies found that those who work closely with pesticides (such as farmers, pesticide applicators and crop-duster pilots) suffer an increased risk of a variety of diseases/illnesses relating to the neurological, behavioral, reproductive and developmental systems. These illnesses include leukemia, lung cancer and non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. As a direct result, 20,000 people die of pesticide poisoning annually in India. However, that does not account for the diseases that pesticide poisoning can lead to. Even those who are not directly related to the agricultural industry are exposed to dangerous pesticides through run-off that contaminates water sources, including drinking water. India’s ban on dangerous pesticides will lead to a major decrease in unnecessary health problems. Many farmers have admitted that they don’t have a proper understanding of how pesticides work or how to even use them correctly. As one farmer, Balbir Singh reported, “Some people use pesticides without understanding why hoping that their crops won’t die…We know we are killing our land and our people.” India’s ban on dangerous pesticides will eliminate this problem and ensure the safety of agricultural workers, as well as the general public.

Pros and Cons of Pesticides

India’s ban on dangerous pesticides is also expected to benefit the economy. The 27 banned pesticides have been outlawed in Europe and the U.S. That makes it more difficult for these countries to import crops from India in the past. However, now India is following the European Union’s guidelines for exporting crops. Individual farmers will be able to export more crops, promising an economic benefit to India’s ban on dangerous pesticides.

Many are worried about the possible negative effects of India’s ban on dangerous pesticides. Pesticides ensure crops will not be destroyed by insects, therefore allowing a maximum number of crops to be harvested and sold. Three-quarters of the Indian population work in agriculture, so a decrease in crop production would devastate the country.

A Positive Shift

However, in 2003, the small Indian state of Sikkim eliminated the use of all pesticides. The state became healthier overall and introduced price caps on produce to keep prices affordable for consumers. Wildlife flourished and in turn led to better farming land, promising higher crop levels. Compared to the rest of India, farmers using pesticides have destroyed farmland by depleting the soil’s nutrients. Sikkim serves as a model to the rest of India, proving that farmers do not need to worry about the ban of pesticides having a negative impact.

India’s ban on dangerous pesticides promises an improvement of the health, environment and economy of the country. With the organic food market growing by 25% per year, India’s steps towards agricultural improvements bring hope that more countries will be inspired by these positive changes.

Karena Korbin
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Haiti
Light from Light is an organization built on three decades worth of friendship between Americans and Haitians. By empowering Haitians and community leaders to lead poverty-reducing efforts, the community has rallied around the central mission of the organization. Light from Light works through the Lespwa Timoun Clinic, which trains physicians and provides access to education-related services and healthcare in Haiti to surrounding communities.

Hannah Jones has worked in Haiti since December 2019, working in the clinic with Light from Light. Since her own arrival and the onset of COVID-19, Hannah has been part of the first wave of pandemic responses in Haiti. Jones’ reflection on Light from Light and the current goals is indicative of her resilience and passion for her work. The pandemic has undoubtedly shaped her job as it has exacerbated the current healthcare problems that have come from the food insecure environment. With malnutrition on the rise, Hannah Jones told The Borgen Project about Light from Light’s work with Haitian children and the topic of healthcare.

Children and Malnutrition

With the realities of food insecurity and poverty in Haiti, the major crisis affecting children is malnutrition. Based on the 2019 impact report, Light from Light has provided life-sustaining care to 1,293 infants and children. Unfortunately, the headway is seeing a setback with food prices being “nearly doubled” because of economic disruption. The clinic has experienced a sharp rise in cases of acute malnutrition. Hannah accounted that the number of malnutrition hospitalizations the clinic has outsourced, from pre-pandemic to present, went from an average of four cases per month to 18 cases in September 2020. Although complications have arisen from COVID-19, the organization is continuing its nutrition programs to offset the number of malnutrition cases.

In the areas near the Lespwa Timoun clinic, which one can translate to “Hope for Children,” one in five children experiences malnutrition. Light from Light follows programs and procedures to lessen the impact of malnutrition, including the use of ready-to-use therapeutic food (RUTF). By following weight and height data from week to week, physicians at the clinic can recommend full treatment plans that follow a child’s growth. The treatment comprises of weekly provisions of Plumpy’Nut, a type of RUTF that has high nutrient density. Children who overcome malnutrition have a better chance of becoming productive members of society.

Healthcare in Haiti

The Lespwa Timoun Clinic is an outpatient clinic with services ranging from general health screenings to prenatal programs to a diabetes club. In addition to the permanent clinic, rural communities receive access to mobile clinics. With 59% of Haitians living on less than $2 per day, taking a day off of work to seek medical care is a burden for those living on the margins. Clinical care is part of a larger goal of Light from Light to strengthen infrastructure in Haiti.

The COVID-19 response that the Lespwa Timoun Clinic facilitated has been an additional complication to healthcare in Haiti. One method of solving hygiene necessities is the Tippy Tap, an innovative no-touch hand washing machine that one can control with a foot lever. The Tippy Tap is a hallmark of Light from Light’s ability to overcome barriers and find solutions. The clinic also distributes personal protective equipment and has implemented support systems in the crisis. Despite numerous issues to tackle, the Lespwa Timoun Clinic has taken this in stride and prioritized the health of the community.

Hannah Jones provides insight into the evolving climate in Haiti and has a positive outlook on Light from Light’s future. The organization is continuing to pursue a more stable pathway for Haitians by implementing strong systems for education and healthcare in Haiti. Light from Light has formed remarkable strongholds through relationships. In time, the foundation has tremendous potential to implement tangible solutions to poverty in Haiti.

– Eva Pound
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

period poverty in Ghana
Ghana, formally known as the Gold Coast, was the first African country to achieve independence from British colonial rule. Ghana is a leading country in Africa but continues to struggle with poverty. Period poverty in Ghana is a prevailing issue, especially in rural areas. One study in the Zabzugu and North Dayi districts found that 95% of girls in the region missed school due to menstruation.

The causes of period poverty vary. However, the key factors are affordability, lack of education on periods and a dearth of access to menstrual materials. Grassroots and international organizations have stepped in to help solve these issues. An end to period poverty in Ghana is achievable through various strategies.

Eliminating the Tax on Menstruation Materials

 In Ghana, there is currently a 20% import tax on menstruation materials because the country considers them a “luxury” item. This creates a price increase that makes it difficult for families in low-income households to afford these items. An income report on rural Ghanaian cocoa farmers, for example, estimated a monthly income of GHS 1,464 equating to about $329 USD.

The estimated cost of one pad in Ghana averages to about GHS 5. Organizations that support healthy menstruation management, like J-Initiative, believe the Ghanaian government should remove the tax on these materials. #FREEMYPERIOD and #DONTTAXMYPERIOD are just a few of the grassroots campaigns created by advocacy groups urging Ghana’s government to consider menstruation materials as essential.

Recently, Ghanaian youth activists were successful in a six-month-long NOPADTAX campaign. Organizers garnered 2,000 signatures for a petition advocating for the removal of the tax. They presented the petition to the Ghanaian government on Menstrual Hygiene day, May 28, 2020.

The Ghanaian government heard the call for change and responded with a promising answer. At a political event held on August 22, 2020, Ghana’s vice president Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia said that “We will eliminate import duties on sanitary pads to improve health conditions, particularly for girls. It is very important. What we intend [on] doing is to make sure we produce sanitary pads in Ghana [and] until that happens in their numbers, we are going to eliminate import duties to bring down their cost.” Organizers view this as a prominent step toward ending period poverty in Ghana.

Manufacturing at Home

Ghanaian advocacy groups have proposed manufacturing menstrual materials like sanitary pads and reusable sanitary cloths. Organizations like Days For Girls have been working to create alternative solutions to combat period poverty across the globe. This organization employs local women and girls to produce reusable sanitary pads utilizing local materials.

The Ghanaian chapter of the Days for Girls organization has provided 10,000 girls across all 10 regions of Ghana with free menstruation kits through its initiative. Many Ghanaian advocacy groups have proposed grassroots manufacturing initiatives for menstruation materials as an economically and environmentally sustainable solution. Organizers believe that manufacturing menstruation materials on the ground would reduce costs and increase accessibility for these vital products.

Providing Menstrual Supplies

Providing menstruation supplies is another proposal to combat period poverty in Ghana. The Global Partnership for Education and DFID has offered to fund possible scholarship programs that seek to supply sanitary pads and school supplies for girls living in rural Ghana.

The Muslimah Mentorship Network, a Ghanaian based organization, created a campaign entitled #1Girl12Pad. This campaign aimed to provide menstruation materials and education on menstruation hygiene for Ghanaian girls. The group visited a school located in the northern region of Ghana and provided almost 300 girls with 12 packs of sanitary pads each, which is enough to last a whole year. The organization’s goal is to implement the campaign in three schools in each region of rural Ghana.

These kinds of initiatives also hope to encourage girls to continue to attend school while menstruating.

Education on Menstruation

Ghana has a variety of misconceptions and stigmas about menstruation. A popular belief is that menstruation is unclean, leading to mismanagement in menstrual hygiene. Organizations are taking the steps to educate both young women and men about menstruation. With proper education, Ghanaian girls will be better equipped to manage their periods and feel more confident with the idea of menstruating.

Advocacy groups hope that Ghana will place more importance on the value of proper menstrual hygiene and menstrual supplies through this increased knowledge. Education on menstruation is a vital tool in helping to reduce misinformation and stigma surrounding menstruation.

Normalizing Healthy Menstrual Hygiene Management

A healthy understanding of how to manage menstruation is vital. Menstrual hygiene management offers coping mechanisms to girls who suffer from cramps, headaches and other side effects of menstruation. Reports state that these coping skills help encourage girls to continue attending school while on their period.

One study on menstrual health management reports that pain was the leading cause of girls missing school. Healthy menstrual management combats this while also providing girls with crucial information on proper hygiene practices, like changing sanitary pads. Menstruation management can counteract the likelihood of hazardous practices that can lead to infection.

Period poverty is a prevailing issue in Ghana. However, there are many efforts to provide sustained solutions. Education on menstruation, healthy menstrual hygiene management and supply distribution and the elimination of the import tax on menstruation materials provide a feasible way to end period poverty in Ghana. 

Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr